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Monday, May 10, 2021

Explained: What new research tells us about the Tyrannosaurus Rex

According to a study, the Tyrannosaurus had a preferred walking speed of just 5 kmph– about the same as the average walking speed of humans.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: April 22, 2021 7:42:42 am
The Tyrannosaurus rex, the most storied of all dinosaurs, is considered the most fearsome eating machine to have evolved on Earth. It lived toward the end of the Cretaceous period, around 66 million to 68 million years ago.

In one of the most iconic scenes from the 1993 blockbuster ‘Jurassic Park’, a gigantic T. rex chases down an open jeep with Dr Ian Malcolm (actor Jeff Goldblum) seated at the back. As the ferocious dinosaur comes threateningly close, Malcolm says his famous line: “Must go faster.”

New research, however, suggests that Malcolm and others in the car would have been safe even if it had gone a whole lot slower.

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According to a study published on Tuesday in the journal Royal Society Open Science by palaeontologists from the Netherlands, the Tyrannosaurus had a preferred walking speed of just 5 kmph– about the same as the average walking speed of humans.

Another study, which came out in Science last week, posits that over the course of two or three millennia, some 2.5 billion T. rex lived and died on Earth.

The Tyrannosaurus rex

The Tyrannosaurus rex, the most storied of all dinosaurs, is considered the most fearsome eating machine to have evolved on Earth. It lived toward the end of the Cretaceous period, around 66 million to 68 million years ago.

It is believed that an adult member of the species stood 12 feet tall and 40 feet long, and weighed between 5,000 to 7,000 kg.

The dinosaur inhabited what is today’s western United States. It was not found in India; the fiercest of all Indian dinosaurs was probably the Rajasaurus narmadensis, followed by another specimen of the Abelisauridae family, the Indosuchus raptorius.

So, what does new research say about T.rex’s speed?

According to livescience.com, studies by palaeontologists over the years have already disproven the rapid speed that the T. rex is portrayed to have in the Jurassic Park series. However, the new research published this week has further lowered the estimate of that number.

Previous studies placed the T. rex’s walking speed between 7.2-10.8 kmph– the maximum speed that its bone structure researchers believed could have permitted. According to the report, these estimates were calculated using the dinosaur’s mass and hip height, while sometimes including stride length from preserved trackways.

The new research reduces the previous estimates by more than half. Instead of relying on the dinosaur’s legs, the Dutch palaeontologists made simulations of the vertical movement of the dinosaur’s tail, something not done before.

“Animals tend to prefer walking speeds at which, for a given distance, energy cost is minimal. They do this choosing specific step rhythms at which their body parts resonate. Since the entire tail of T. rex is suspended by ligaments, which behave like rubber bands, we reconstructed this tail to investigate at which step rhythm the tail of T. rex would resonate,” said Pasha van Bijlert, the lead author of the study in an email to CNN.

“The entire tail, by our reconstruction at almost 1,000 kilos, was really just a mass supported by a rubber band and with every step it would slightly bounce up and down. With the right rhythm you get a lot of movement for very little effort.”

The scientists calculated a step rhythm based on “Trix”, a 39 foot long T. rex fossil in the Netherlands, and multiplied it by the step length preserved in fossilised tracks to arrive at the estimated baseline walking speed of 2.86 miles per hour (4.6 kmph).

And, how many Tyrannosauruses were there on Earth?

As per the study in Science, the habitat of the T.rex could have extended from as far as Alaska in North America up until Mexico in the south.

Researchers estimate that at any point in time, about 20,000 T. rexes lived on Earth, and that there were 1.27 lakh generations of the species that lived and died. Based on these figures, the study calculates the total number of T. rexes to have inhabited Earth over a two-to-three millennia period at around 2.5 billion.

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